The Lake Park High School boy’s track & field team has dominated the track scene in the state of Illinois winning the 3A team title the last two years. Head Coach Jay Ivory has built a squad that is dominated by field events. In the history of the track and field on the high school level in Illinois, no school has won the state title the way that school west of Chicago has. All the points scored by the Lancers were done through 6 field events. It must be something with the facilities that they have. It must be the water that is in Roselle that they are drinking. But it is something way more than that.
There is nothing that special about the indoor facilities that the Lake Park track teams use. There is no flash or sizzle about the area. It is not a 200 meter track temple that some of the schools have within the state. It is small and compact. The boys and girls teams have trouble using this small area at the same time. The actual running area is not a full circuit. But still, Ivory and his team find I way to make it work out. Thank goodness for a warm winter.
There is an aura of success when you enter that small area adjacent to the main gym. It comes from the two state championships that this team has earned. The success starts from the coaching staff that is passionate in what they do.
Jay Ivory is the head coach. “I feel like I am just the manager,” he said. “I am just trying to get the team from meet to meet and make sure they are entered in each meet.” Ivory is the pulse of this team. But when you ask him about that, he defers all the success to the staff.
“You can see how passionate they are to the cause of track & field,” Ivory says of his assistants. “It is absolutely infectious. No surprises with them. We would not be successful without these guys.”
Tom Kaberna coaches the horizontal jumpers. Bob Nihells coaches the weight events. Lance Murphy is in charge of the distance runners. Doug Juraska works with the High Jump and the Pole Vault. Ivory handles the sprints. “I believe we have the best group of coaches in the state, perhaps the country,” Ivory stated.
It is the field events where state meet success has occurred in recent state meets. You can look at past state meets and see that all 6 events have been successful which is a credit to the 3 coaches that coach the athletes.
This year will be a year of test for the Lancers. They have lost 65 out of the 74 points that were scored in the state meet with the graduation of Jeremy and Jermaine Kline in the weight events along with Zach Ziemek, the state champ in the Pole Vault, Long and Triple Jumps.
For the first time in 3 years, Lake Park enters the season not as the favorite in the team competition. It is a position that suits Ivory just fine.
“I am fine with the fact that people think that we have lost so much and they we will not be towards the top,” Ivory sheepishly says. “I think we have some quality guys coming back that could put up points. We also have some young kids that are also stepping into the mix. We may be a more rounded team than we have been the last couple of years.”
No offense to Ivory’s sprint crew or the distance men of Lance Murphy. Both men have a young group of athletes that could surprise on the state level this season. The spotlight the last few years has been in the field. So what is the secret of their success?
“Success breeds success,” Ivory simply states. “It is just like York and their distance runners. Kids see the success that comes from the events and they just want to be a part of it.”
~ Breaking down the jump ~
Kaberna’s jumpers have achieved the most equally along with Nihells' throwers in the Lake Park program. It comes down to the coach and his passion towards the two events.
“I have gone to so many clinics searching for ideas to make my guys better,” Kaberna said while I was visiting. “Any idea, if it is good I will use it. For example, I TIVO the guys when they are taking jumps. We go back and watch each of the jumps slowing it down. I can point out what the guys are doing wrong. I got that idea from a diving coach and how he used it with his divers. It is easy to say you are doing something wrong and the guys will doubt what you are saying. If you show them the video of a jump, they become believers of what I am teaching. The proof is in the pudding.”
“I had problems with certain aspects of my Long Jump during last year,” said Junior Scott Filip, who earned all-state last year in that event. “Coach showed me what I was doing wrong on the video. We fixed it and then there was no more problem.”
So much of Kaberna’s practices are concentrate on technique. Not one part of the jumping phase is ignored. Kaberna picks it apart piece by piece for his athletes. The one thing that his guys do not practice is the landing. “If we do everything else right, the landing takes care of itself,” Kaberna states.
Kaberna is also responsible for the DuPage Track Club, where the Lancers compete on during the early summer. It is also a chance for younger athletes in the community to feel what it is like and what it will be like to be a Lancer. “We are just trying the younger kids excited about track and field,” Ivory added. “No doubt the track club helps us.”
~ The little corner of success ~
There is a small room nestled in the corner between the track area and the main gym. That is where the weight athletes of Bob Nihells congregate every day to work on the technique necessary in the Shot Put and the Discus. The small area was where State Champions Dan Block & Jermaine Kline learned their craft. Just like with Kaberna and the rest of the Lake Park staff, Nihells is creative with the training techniques. There is video equipment in the room to look at each athlete.
“Good athletes make better throwers,” Nihells said as he was describing the Kline brothers. “They were extremely gifted.” This year will be a bit of a challenge where he will be going through a rebuilding process with his group. Will the success of the Klines’ trickle down to this year? “It is really hard to say if any of the kids learned from them or their success scared some kids away. Some kids back away from that success. So it is a double edged sword when you get kids like that. Some kids, if they are like a year away, they have a tendency that I am not going to get a chance to throw so why should I. Then you have some freshman that look up to them so that is really the key if you have freshman that are really talented and they saw what it took to get good. Then as a coach you move in and you are ready to go again.”
“The group I have this year is very coachable. When you have kids that work hard and that you can teach, they will be successful,” Nihells concluded.
~ Legacy ~
Kevin Spejcher is looked at as the key leader on this squad. He has competed in the state meet the last few years placing 6th last year in the state finals in the High Jump. His goals are high this year that he made a choice to skip basketball for the first time in his high school career. “I just knew I was not going to get a scholarship in basketball. I wanted to concentrate all my efforts in the High Jump,” the senior said. “Individually, I just want to stay healthy and try to go over 7’ by the end of the indoor season. Top 3 is definitely the goal. I have been part of the state team the last two years. I want to bring one more back before I leave.”
The success that this team had was through the efforts of Zach Ziemek who is now attending the University of Wisconsin. It was not what he did in the stadium the day of the meet, but the impact that he had during practice and away from the team.
“What I learned from Zach is that you have to put 100% effort during the off season,” said Filip. “I learned what you put into the event is what you get out of it. He always stayed positive. He always was on time for practice. He would do everything that was asked of him. I looked up to him because he taught me everything.”
What Ziemek passed down to Filip will be eventually passed down to the next group of jumpers. “I am trying to teach the younger kids the same things. I just want to be the athlete, the person that he was while he was here. I just want to continue the Lake Park tradition.”
When it comes down to it, it is what the coaches bring to the table for their kids every day. The coaches look to get knowledge and pass it on to the athletes on this team. It brings the team to practice every day hungry to learn and hungry to do their best.
Kevin Spejcher summed it up best when it comes down to his coaches and what the secret is in this west suburban school. “I have never been inspired so much by these coaches. They love what they do and they know it. It is the coaches. That is why it is so special here.”